European Parliament up in Arms Over PRISM

A new National Security Agency (NSA) data center, June 10, 2013 in Bluffdale, Utah
A new National Security Agency (NSA) data center, June 10, 2013 in Bluffdale, Utah

Photo by George Frey/Getty Images

Ryan Gallagher wrote yesterday afternoon (U.S. time) about European political response to recent revelations about U.S. surveillance. While Americans were sleeping, many more statements came down the pike during Tuesday morning’s European parliament debates. The highlights from the main parliamentary party groups:

“My data belongs to me, that is the cornerstone of European thinking on data protection,” said Manfred Weber, the German vice-chair of the EPP group. “It is completely unacceptable that the US have different rules [for] US citizens and citizens of other countries.” He added: “The US approach is not our approach but we work together as partners.”

On behalf of S&D, Claude Moraes, spoke of “a major breach of trust, non compliant with EU data protection legislation,” yet cautioned that the “vital balance between security and the need to protect data, must be safeguarded.” The British MEP added: “Trust has clearly been breached. We must ensure US public authorities processing EU citizens data, do so within our standards.”

“We are failing the EU citizens and we should be ashamed of ourselves,” Sophie In ‘t Veld, a Dutch member of the ALDE group. She criticised the Commission and the “doublespeak” of member states. “Obama said to his citizens: ‘Don’t worry, we are not spying on you as citizens, we are only spying on foreigners.’ But this is us.” She added: “What kind of special relationship is that?”

“This is not only about data protection, this is about democracy and the rule of law, which cannot be in line with mass surveillance of citizens around the world,” said Jan Philipp Albrecht. The German member of the Green group, who is responsible for steering new legislation on data protection through Parliament, said: “I would like to agree on standards with the US but we need legislative changes on the other side of the Atlantic too.”

EPP is the Christian Democrats umbrella group, S&D is the Socialists and Social Democrats, ALDE is libertarian parties, and the Greens are green. In other words, that’s the full spectrum of European opinion. Even before this came out, there was pressure from parliament for data privacy rules that would’ve been bad for a lot of U.S. Web companies, and now that the U.S. Intelligence Community seems determined to turn commercial relationships with U.S. companies into intelligence relationships with the U.S. government, things are going to get a lot worse for Google, Facebook, etc. In ‘t Veld has the key point that the administration’s pushback is largely based on reassuring Americans that our data isn’t being accessed lightly. But that doesn’t help on the other side of the Atlantic.